SAN FRANCISCO — A landmark settlement was announced Tuesday over the death of a woman motorist and the injury to her brother when their car plunged into a collapsed section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the October, 1989, earthquake.
The agreement was described by an attorney for the family as involving "seven-figure amounts"--with the payment to the injured survivor representing the largest award yet in the hundreds of claims against the state over the bridge accident and the collapse of a portion of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland.
The fatal car accident was videotaped by chance by another motorist on the span and was widely shown during news coverage of the devastating temblor.
The driver of the car, Anamafi Moala, 23, a nurse's aid from Oakland, suffered fatal injuries in the crash. Her brother Lesisita Halangahu, a 40-year-old construction worker, was a passenger and received serious leg injuries that have left him unable to work.
David B. Baum of San Francisco, an attorney representing Halangahu and Moala's father, husband and adopted child, said the settlement provided "very large" lump-sum and lifetime monthly payments to family members.
The specific amounts must remain confidential under an agreement with the state so they may not be used as a basis of comparison for other claims, the attorney said. Baum described the settlement as fair and praised state officials for paying the claims "without extended delay." The amount awarded on Halangahu's claim was the largest to date resulting from the quake, Baum said.
Joseph R. Radding, deputy executive officer of the State Board of Control, confirmed that a settlement had been reached in the case but declined to disclose the amounts of payment. "It is our goal to make fair settlement offers to all injured parties and survivors of those who were killed in the quake," he said.
Radding said that thus far, 411 such claims have been made to the state, with 201 being settled, 53 rejected, 30 resolved by other means, and the remainder pending.
Under procedures established after the quake, successful claimants are entitled to emergency payments of up to $200,000 per family and may negotiate a further settlement, depending on the circumstances. In the process, the state does not concede liability. Claimants are not precluded from filing suit if they choose to reject a settlement proposal.
The fatal bridge accident occurred about half an hour after the massive quake, which registered magnitude 7.1, struck at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, 1989, causing a 50-foot opening in a section of the top deck of the bridge.
Moala and her brother, headed for Oakland on the lower deck of the bridge, were among the hundreds of motorists who were stopped and rerouted by state personnel to the top deck at Treasure Island so they could return safely to San Francisco.
But Moala and some other motorists proceeded back toward Oakland, unaware of the danger that lay in going in that direction. While other cars managed to avoid the collapsed section, Moala's auto plunged into the opening, resulting in the only fatality from the bridge's collapse. Meanwhile, across the bay in Oakland, 42 people died in the collapse of a one-mile section of the freeway.
Baum said California Highway Patrol officers and Caltrans employees at the scene "failed to properly control traffic" on the bridge, resulting in cars driven by Moala and others to be sent toward the collapsed section.